John Piper, one of the faces of “complementarian” thinking in America, is stepping down from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Piper’s endorsement of wifely submission has made his somewhat infamous on the blogosphere, particularly when he seemed to endorse submission even in the case of abuse.
Since then, perhaps as a last gesture before leaving his church, Piper has attempted to clarify his position a bit. Like so many Reformed thinkers, Piper seems to be hung up on authority. He can’t quite bring himself to back down from the “leadership” of the husband, so he brings in the authority of the state:
God himself has put law enforcement officers in place for the protection of the innocent. “If you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries. This legitimate recourse to civil protection may be done in a spirit that does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband, for a wife may take this recourse with a heavy and humble heart that longs for her husband’s repentance and the restoration of his nurturing leadership.
Michael Bird calls this a step forward, which, sadly, it is. Wartburg Watch gives a much more biting review, and I think a much more realistic one. They pick up on the weak, vacillating way that Piper accepts police intervention:
A wife’s submission to the authority of civil law, for Christ’s sake, may, therefore, overrule her submission to a husband’s demand that she endure his injuries.
By this statement he “may” be implying that is not a necessity for a woman who has received “injuries” to go to the police. In other words, Piper is giving the church advisors an out. That is very, very dangerous. For example, are the “gospel” advisors of an abused woman willing to take the risk that they might overlook a leaking spleen (due to trauma) being undiagnosed and having her end up in a trauma unit, almost dead, from internal bleeding? People who are abused MUST be examined by a medical professional.
People give up authority with reluctance and institutions prefer to avoid outside scrutiny. These factors are always going to stand in the way of a proper response to abuse of any kind. You’d think that a theology that focuses so heavily on human sinfulness would be able to pick up on that.